So how best to define food security?
Global, national, regional, community or even household; any definition of food security must centre on individuals.
The World Food Summit of 1996, called by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), defined “Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
This definition was again refined in the 2002 report, The State of Food Insecurity 2001:
This definition is today recognised widely, and is adopted by the FAO.“Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”
It is not, however, the only definition.
The United States Department of Agriculture has a slightly different version. Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes at a minimum:
- the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and
- an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (that is, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).
For example access to food is only part of security of supply. Access requires availability. In some seasons there is more than enough food, in other seasons there is little. One of the main factors in a lack of food security in some areas is price volatility. Traders and other intermediaries often control access, sometimes with the intent of creating volatility.
And even if accessibility and availability on a daily basis is achieved, is that food of a sufficient quality, both in terms of nutrition and also calorie intakes. Often one of the main challenges is finding sufficient food for an adequate daily nutritional intake, rather than simply enough food to avoid hunger.
ACIAR often describes food security in a conceptual sense:
- a narrow view of food security is a person having sufficient food calories available each day.
- more broadly, food security can encompass the production of food surpluses, allowing those living in poverty to sell the excess for income, and the diversification beyond a single production system to create greater flexibility and spread risk. From that income can come opportunities—for children’s education, access to health and gender equity.
With enough people making that journey comes growth in communities, in regions, and nations. And hopefully, food security at each of those levels too.
So when we talk food security, we are doing so on two levels, at the individual level, and because achieving food security for an individual can--and does--have far broader implications.
Warren Page, ACIAR Communications Manager